Through 26 career NHL games, Matty Beniers has played like a missing piece for the Kraken on both ends of the ice.
Every game won’t be one for the books. But coach Dave Hakstol has repeatedly referenced the 20-year-old rookie’s uncommon confidence.
“He’s a young centerman in this league. His effort and his intentions are outstanding,” Hakstol said. “His confidence is a real strength. Playing up the middle, you have so many different responsibilities.
“With and without the puck he’s got outstanding instincts. That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be different challenges when you’re on the ice consistently against the other teams’ top players, but he’s ready to handle that growth.”
Hakstol shifted his wingers around before Sunday’s overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Beniers remained with veteran Jordan Eberle, who’s been a linemate for most of the season.
Beniers tapped it to Eberle for a backdoor goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 29. In the next game against the Calgary Flames, Eberle was the one feeding Beniers on a 2-on-1. Beniers settled the puck as Dan Vladar dropped and sank the game-winner.
Eberle put it all together, carrying the puck into the offensive zone, deciding if and when to pass it. But the goal doesn’t happen without the finishing touch. That’s one of many services Beniers provides.
“I would probably be in the corner because I overskated it,” teammate Yanni Gourde joked. “He knows where to be. He makes tremendous plays, heads-up plays all the time.”
After Kraken (8-5-3) practice Tuesday, Beniers brought up his team-worst minus-9 plus/minus rating. He’s been on the ice for nine more goals against than for in certain situations. It’s a stat that doesn’t tell the whole story, but he’s heard about it.
“We’re winning, so … ” is his response to that.
“That’s not the best. Outside of that, I think I’m playing a lot better in the D zone. I think that’s helping me get to offense faster.”
“He’s actually worked on his defensive zone game so much,” Gourde agreed. “You can [see] his improvement.”
According to moneypuck.com, Beniers has drawn six minor penalties but still hasn’t visited an NHL penalty box. As of Tuesday he sat second among rookies in goals (five) and tied for second in points (nine) through 16 games.
He’s also blocked 12 shots. Beniers sits at 44.4% on the faceoff dot, appropriately right between the centers he’s between on the depth chart in Gourde (46.1%) and Alex Wennberg (43.5%).
“That’s an area he’s going to get better in,” Hakstol said. “He’s working at that. But we’re confident that he will because of how competitive he is and how much attention he pays.”
Two-way play is often a work in progress for young centers. Same goes for Beniers, but he’s already one of Seattle’s best forwards at helping the defense move the puck out of the zone.
“If you’re not doing that at the level before here, I don’t think you’re making it to this level,” Beniers said.
He turned pro last spring after two seasons at the University of Michigan. Beniers came into training camp this season at least 10 pounds heavier and said part of the Kraken’s full October game slate was spent figuring out how to manage the day-to-day wear. In college it was mostly gearing up for the weekends, but now every night matters.
His almost point-per-game pace after joining the Kraken in mid-April drew considerable attention, and Gourde isn’t surprised that carried over into his first full season.
“There’s not a lot of players like him,” Gourde said. “He’s done a tremendous job in his first [almost] 30 games.
“He’s very involved. He loves to be part of every conversation.”